Having a great caregiver for your children can make all the difference. A positive, warm, nurturing environment helps them learn, grow and develop appropriately in an enjoyable setting. As a parent, when I’m confident that my children are well taken care of, I can fully immerse myself at work and be more productive. As with any job, selecting the right person is the most critical component to increase the likelihood of a successful match, but if you’re like me, you’ve spent minimal time preparing to interview candidates and instead relied on your intuition. In our situation, we got lucky, but it turns out that there are ways of increasing our odds. I met with Lora Brawley, owner of the Nanny Care Hub, a 30-year veteran nanny-extraordinaire, teacher and coach to ask what parents often get wrong in the screening process and how to better guarantee a successful childcare experience.
What is different about hiring for a caregiver at home and hiring a candidate at work? Why does it seem so much harder to hire someone to care for our kids?
Well, it turns out, they are two very different things, and hiring a caregiver is generally, not in our wheelhouse as parents. Lora says, “At work, you know the job description you’re hiring for, you understand the expertise required. However, when it comes to hiring a caregiver, most parents don’t have a background in childhood education to screen for the appropriate requirements. Instead, parents check the boxes on the nuts and bolts of the job, then ultimately rely on a feeling.” This can be problematic as many candidates can interview well and create a friendly connection. They may say all the right things on the surface but may not do well under stress or may revert to a discipline philosophy that differs from the values of your family.
The other challenge for parents is that care for their kids is very personal, yet they’re also hiring as an employer. “You’re not just looking for someone that will fit well with your kids, you’re also looking for someone that will be a good employee.” Lora explains, “You need to assess how they handle feedback, how they handle stressful situations, and their professionalism”. This personal/professional hybrid adds an extra layer of complexity to finding the right candidate.
How should parents approach the selection process?
“Selecting a caregiver is like a puzzle and you have to do each part right to guarantee success” says Lora. Most parents skip steps or don’t do each fully. She breaks down the selection process to 4 parts:
1. Communicate the job and compensation – outline the basic requirements and compensation including vacation time and benefits
2. Have a phone screening – perform a basic personality-fit assessment to make sure it is someone you that could potentially work with your family.
3. Conduct a quality care assessment – have a formal interview, ideally in person, to assess how the person would care for your kids. Vet out their past experience, current skills and current understanding of childhood education.
4. Perform reference checks – calling on both prior employers as well as friends and family to have a conversation on the candidate’s method of care.
What do parents normally get wrong in the process?
In communicating the job and compensation
Often times, parents wait until the end of the interview to discuss compensation. This should be done prior to the phone screening to not waste time for either party for something that is non-negotiable.
In the quality care assessment
Many parents ask behavioral questions which is great, but it needs to go levels deeper than they expect. “Parents will ask, ‘How do you discipline a child?’, but they need to ask follow-on questions, ‘What would you do if that doesn’t work?’ to understand how they would operate under stress”. Lora explains, “And you’re not only looking for what they will do, but why. Why is so important to understand the philosophy behind their approach.” Instead of just accepting that the candidate would choose to give a child a time-out, ask why they chose that. If a candidate can’t explain the method, then they likely aren’t following a well-established one and will revert to how they were raised as a child, which often times isn’t the approach you would take for your own. While some caregivers will do things naturally, you want them to be intentional about their approach, as Lora says, “Intentionality is a huge part of quality care”.
In performing the reference checks
Parents should call the references themselves, not just rely on agencies. Parents feel an obligation to other parents and are willing to be very honest about their experiences, more so than in reference checks with agencies. “Reference checks should be a real conversation, with the expectation that it lasts about 45 minutes.” Lora advises parents to ask open ended questions to get the other person talking, for example “How did they handle discipline?” and “Were there disagreements and how were they resolved?” Friends and family can also be an important reference and often speak very candidly about the candidate. Parents should ask questions such as “Have they discussed difficulty with other jobs?” or “What kind of environment would they work well in?”
What are some red flags that parents should look for?
1. The nanny not asking enough questions and/or substantive questions – the nanny should be interviewing the parents as much as the parents are interviewing them. They should be asking questions about their parenting style, how they follow through with the children, how conflicts are resolved as an employer, and how boundaries are set for appropriate expectations of housework and potential job creep, not just the mechanics of the day-to-day job.
2. The mediocre caregiver – the subpar candidates tend to weed themselves out in the screening and references process, however the mediocre caregiver is the one that’s harder to identify. “These caregivers say the right things and you think you’d get along well, but often they don’t have the emotional make-up for real connection” explains Lora, “this is where the quality care assessment deep dive is critical to flag if their answers hold up when asked the same type of question at different times, in different ways.”
3. Unexplained gaps in a resume – many nannies will leave bad prior childcare experiences off of a resume in the case they would not like to have them as a reference. These bad experiences are important to understand, parents need inquire about these with both the candidate and references to fully understand what may otherwise be hidden.
Most of us parents aren’t experts on behavioral discipline or up-to-date on tactics for child development, however we know our preferred approach when we hear it. We just need to be asking about it. Breaking down the process, fully performing each step and getting deeper than we otherwise would’ve thought was necessary will enable us to make better hiring decisions for ourself and for our kids.
Why parents are ill-quipped to hire a caregiver and steps to get it right
Author: Annie Delaney, Rayz Kidz Co-Founder and CEO
The Nanny Care Hub is an online community that provides expert resources, upcoming trainings, hot jobs and information about everything nanny.
Rayz Kidz is an app for parents and caregivers that improves the quality and experience of care at home. The app has event logs to improve communication between the caregiver and parents and provides peace of mind for parents. Users can access tons of fun hands-on activities with ease that importantly have identifiable supplemental learning benefits. The app also has photo and video sharing capabilities so parents can proudly share moments of their little ones with those they love.